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January 15, 2013 | 02:28 PMLINN — "It's going to be hard to walk away, but it's time," Dick Kronwall said.
Strolling through Traver School's hallways with Kronwall two weeks before his 61st birthday, listening to him talk about how he's cleaned those floors for 42 years, it appeared for one moment as though tears would swell in his eyes.
He said Jan. 31, his last day as Traver's head custodian, will be bittersweet, a "happy-sad day."
Of course, he said he would stop by once in a while, a typical thing for someone to say who's retiring from a job they've held so long. Sometimes, people who are retiring don't mean it, but Kronwall is the type of person to look you straight in the eye when he speaks.
He lives down the road from the school, he said. He's not going anywhere. Kronwall said he's running in the spring election for a spot on the Traver School Board because he wants to remain involved.
But as sad and nervous as he may be about breaking a 42-year-old routine, Kronwall also spoke as if he really believes it's time to hang up the mop.
"It's just that I've got so many things I haven't been able to do," Kronwall said. "I'm getting tired."
Some things he wants to do include playing golf with his grandson and spending more time with his son, Rich Jr.
"I want more time for myself," he said. "That's one of the big things. I missed a lot of my son's growing up. He's now 21."
Kronwall shared another of his retirement dreams.
"Eventually, I want to live in a shack on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I don't know if my wife would go for it," he said with a mischievous grin.
One of seven children, Kronwall grew up on a farm in Zenda.
"I was (in) the last class out of Zenda School," he said. "Class of 1966."
While he was attending Big Foot High School, Kronwall said he was hired part-time at Traver. At that time, Richard "Dutch" Morgan was the head custodian.
"I worked on the farm on Highway 120, for Leonard Snudden," Kronwall said. "He was the clerk of the school board at that time."
He said Snudden would send him to help Morgan at Traver from time to time.
"In 1971, Dutch had cancer (and) I took over in October of 1971," Kronwall said. "I never really applied for that job, but I was the only one here who knew the building. I just never left."
At that time, Kronwall was 19.
Morgan died Feb. 11, 1972.
"I'll never forget that day. ... He was a good guy," Kronwall said. "Easy to work for, good to work for. We just became good friends."
And Morgan became a role model for Kronwall.
"But I never thought I'd be doing this my whole life," he said.
When told it's rare to hear of someone staying at a job for 42 years, Kronwall said he believes it's a "generational thing."
People don't stay at jobs so long these days, he said.
"Me, I like the kids, I like the staff here, I like what I do," Kronwall said. "A lot of people think it's a menial job — you sweep, you clean toilets — but there's a lot more to it than that."
A good feeling
To Kronwall, being head custodian is about working with people — most importantly, kids.
"I've always liked kids," he said. "They're our upcoming generation. … You could not be at this job for 42 years and not like kids."
Kronwall said he tries to help children any way he can, "even in my little part of what I do," whether it's in the cafeteria, helping them put their boots on or taking someone with a skinned knee off the playground up to the school office.
Yes, sweeping floors and cleaning toilets is part of the job, he said, but so is learning to read faces.
"Sometimes, I was just there when they needed something," Kronwall said.
After Jan. 31, he won't be there anymore. Not as a custodian.
"Some of the kids have told me, please don't leave," he said, "which is a good feeling."
As for that last day, it's likely to be an emotionally turbulent one for Kronwall. "I've been here all my adult life," he said. "It's going to be hard to lay my keys on Craig's desk (Collins, the school principal) that last day. I won't have to come here anymore."